Mantero Seta and the Art of Fashion

To start off our fourth day in Italy, we got up early to make a trip to Lake Como and to visit a company called Mantero Seta. This company makes designs or full products like clothing and accessories for other companies. They weave their own richer fabrics, like silk, and buy some others in large quantities. Most of their products are scarves, ties, and other accessories made of silk with beautiful prints. Our guide described Mantero as the “ghostwriters of the fashion industry”. I think that is the most accurate way to describe this company. These are the people behind many of the products you can buy from luxury brands like Gucci, Armani, Dolce and Gabana, Chanel, and more. In addition to the 10-15 international luxury brands, they also make smaller batches of products for individually owned fast-fashion companies in Europe. The companies they work with can either pick from already made products and designs or they can ask for something more specific to be made.
Mantero Seta was founded in Como in the year 1902 by Riccardo Mantero and is still owned by the same family. It is also a unique company compared to many others in the fashion industry because all of their production phases are internal. They do everything from the initial design phase to the shipping of the product. As for their place in the supply chain, Mantero has done a lot of vertical integration. Some of their supplies are bought from other companies, like machinery, screens, dye from places in Italy and Germany, and some of the fabrics. However, as they specialize in silk, they bought the silk farm in China to have more control over the process. They design and make the products in the factory we toured, then do quality control as they never sell a product that is less than perfect, after that they are taken to warehouses they own, and shipped to whoever needs them. Some of their products are even sold directly to downstream customers through their store.
While the group that gave the presentation on Mantero Seta did a great job, but actually being taken on a tour of their factory gave us an in-depth look at almost every step that goes into their creation process. The first step they do is come up with a design with the help of a little inspiration. There is a whole room dedicated to many books filled with patterns and one of the largest archives of swatches of everything they’ve ever made plus some bought from others. This archive is separated by brand and category, like stripes or flowers, and completely digitalized so the needed swatches can be found easily. All of these books and swatches are used for inspiration, but they are never reprinted. It seems impossible to still be thinking of new patterns of polka dots, but Mantero seems to be doing just fine. In addition to these archives, they also mix colors themselves and keep a recipe for each one so it can be replicated. The same color will have different recipes based on what type of fabric they will be used on, because that can change how the color looks once the product is dyed.
Once the design is made, they must decide if they want to print it using the screen-printing technique or to do it digitally. If the product will be made using screens, the design will need to be separated into layers by color. Each screen will allow the dye to pass through specific areas and one screen is used for each color found in the design. For this method, the cost is based on the number of screens used, so they want to have as few screens as they can while still maintaining quality designs, but many can need more than 30 screens. We saw the giant machines that moved the fabric along and put one layer of a color on as it goes. When digital printing first came around, the quality used to be cheaper, but now it is on the same level as screen printing if not better in some cases. Our guide predicted that as time goes, digital printing will become the more used method, with few or no products being made using screens. Digital printing reads a file and recreates it just like a normal printer, it is a quicker process, but the fabric needs to be treated first in order to absorb the dye better.
The value network principle for Mantero Seta is very interconnected, because nearly all steps are done by Mantero or a company they own. Raw materials like thread, dye, and fabric are obtained from other companies nearby, except for silk as I said earlier, and then shipped to Mantero’s factory. Once the products are finished, any that are not sold directly in their onsite store are shipped by Mantero to their partner companies who then sell the products in their own stores. They have a lot of safety concerns with the printing machines, and the chemicals in the dyes. Very strict safety regulations are in place to prevent injuries. Mantero also makes sure to properly dispose of any waste, and they use any leftover dyes for other products. They need a workforce with both creative skills and the skills to operate the machines safely.

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